Extravagant district lunch raises questions about priorities


Atlanta Public Schools

Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring speaks at the “State of the District” event, which raised concerns about spending.

Farris Duwayri

High spending on this year’s “State of the District,” an annual event aimed to showcase Atlanta Public Schools and attract sponsorships, has caused community concern.

An open records request filed by Midtown parent Meredith Bass revealed the district spent over $95,000 on this event. Over $40,000 was spent on the venue, The Illuminarium, an immersive entertainment center on the BeltLine. Bass said she was shocked by the number and believes that the event could have been hosted at a school.

“I was in disbelief that the school district would pay that kind of money for an event that could have been done at one of our schools,” Bass said. “In a school, they could show off what was really happening there.”

Critics believe expenses like the $4,700 spent on jackets for the students and nearly $3,500 on flowers were needless expenses.

“Some of those expenses were absolutely unnecessary,” APS teacher Sarah Miles* said. “If you want to get sponsors, then you need them to see why you need money at your schools.”

APS spent more than $39,000 on catering for the event, which amounts to about $130 per plate for 300 people. In comparison, a school lunch in APS costs $3.

“This is ridiculous spending,” APS alum Akiem Williams said. “If you’re going to provide lunch, it shouldn’t be better than what is provided on a regular day basis [for students]. We’ve been complaining about nutrition and food for many years.”

Bass believes the funds could have helped address a range of other issues that could help students and the APS community.

“The money could definitely go into the schools,” Bass said. “I know the money is definitely needed in the athletics budget. Students are asked to pay to watch [their] friends play sports like football and basketball. The money could go there.”   

Williams agrees with Bass that the money should instead go to student needs instead of being used to impress corporations.

“It is a misappropriation of funds,” Williams said. “That was a lot of money to go into a party when we have students that lack technology; students with mental health issues, and students that are homeless. The money could have gone towards educating our scholars and giving them a better environment to learn rather than put on a show for $95,000.”

On the other hand, Superintendent Lisa Herring believes spending money culminates in receiving more money from sponsors, creating a cycle of economic success. 

“That investment yields a longer investment, long-term for schools,” Herring said. 

Senior Dipesh Aggarwal, Midtown’s representative to the APS Student Advisory Council, attended the event and agrees with Herring that the event will be beneficial if the event leads to corporate sponsorships. However, Aggarwal believes that the event wasn’t beneficial to him personally.

“If organizations were convinced to invest in APS, then the investment of $95,000 was definitely worth it,” Aggarwal said. “Personally, I did not gain anything from the event but if the school got more funding, then it would be a success.”

Bass believes that getting money from the sponsors could have been done another way. 

“There were 16 corporate sponsor representatives out of a 300-person guest list,” Bass said. “They could have just made phone calls. They could have just sat down with them. The partners that they were courting want to be a part of a community like APS. You don’t need to wine and dine them at $130 a plate.”

Miles agrees with Bass that the spending was not necessary and if the district needs money then they should have hosted the event at a school.

“I talk to teachers in [APS] schools and they have broken blinds in the windows, their facilities are falling apart, school lunch is trash,” Miles said. “If you want people to give you money, you need to show them why you want the money. When you are wining and dining them with expensive lunches, you’re not really sending the message that your district is struggling.”

Bass also believes that this is one of many unnecessary expenditures from APS and that the district could have gotten its target of $15 million in sponsorships from other places.

“The IT department just purchased $80,000 in Apple computers for themselves,” Bass said. “Twenty million dollars was spent on Covid-19 testing that we didn’t have to spend. The state could have spent that money for us and that would be your $15 million that she’s [Dr. Herring] is looking for. It’s mind-blowing that there’s no accountability at the leadership level for this excessive spending.”

For some, the amount spent on the event is the last straw for Dr. Herring.

“I’ve felt this for a while, but seeing this article really cemented for me that she’s not there for students and their families,” Miles said. “Her spending this money really added to the culture that she’s not here to do this job.”

An online petition with over 900 signatures that called for the replacement of Dr. Herring and other members of APS leadership is circulating and Bass believes that a change of senior leadership at APS will help.

“It is time for a change of leadership at APS across the board, starting with the superintendent,” Bass said. “We need someone who is going to bring up the morale of teachers and of the community. A lot of trust was lost during Covid and between the teachers, students, and administrators. I think the trust needs to be restored, and the only way to do that is to bring in new leadership.”  

*Anonymous name.